Very hard to be 100% sure on one like that. Yep common to have the thermostat removed and yes that makes it hard to know if it is water pump cavitation causing the bubbles or a head gasket or worse a cracked head. As for cost a gasket set HEAD that is is less then $100 then figure oil change and antifreeze and then if your doing the work or you have it done. If your doing it and have to change the head gasket then $100 or less. Me I would change the oil and then work it for an hour or so but check the oil and radiator often. Also maybe check for a thermostat and if you find none install one so it get up to temp so you know better if it is condensation or
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